The day was spent exploring Mornington Peninsula, an absolutely lovely area. The road south, the Nepean Point Road, passes through several lovely seaside townships; Mount Martha, Safety Beach, Dromana, and from here you can take the Arthurs Seat Road south east, winding up 305 metres above sea level to Arthurs Seat, from where one might be able to see across Port Phillip Bay on a clear day.
Alas, today, the dirty haze was low over the horizon in all directions despite the clear blue skies all above. Our only view was immediately to the south west over McCrae and Rosebud. The lookout is situated in the Arthurs Seat State Park and is a lovely spot for a picnic, however the day was still too new, even for morning coffee, so we descended and continued along our way down the coast, noting the many bathing boxes lining the sandy beaches, just as those we had seen at Brighton some weeks ago. There are apparently more than 1800 iconic bathing boxes in Port Phillip Bay, and more than two thirds of them are situated down this coast on the Mornington Peninsula.
The settlements merge into one another; the whole coast is simply a continuation of the Melbourne suburbs. We continued on through Rye, Blairgowrie and then to Sorrento and Portsea which are situated at the base of the bay, the interior of the hook that protects this massive bay from the wild southern ocean.
Just east of Sorrento we stopped at the historic memorial to the very first, albeit brief settlement of Victoria led by one Captain David Collins and his shipload of four hundred and two people, including three hundred and seven convicts and their seventeen wives and seven children. The attempt at settlement in October 1803 on this narrow neck of land was short lived and all but William Buckley left again within four months. Lack of water was the main problem, along with the threat of the natives and generally acknowledgement that this was not an ideal place to start a new life. A fortnight later they were all in Tasmania where most went on to lead worthwhile lives.
William Buckley has popped up here and there along our travels; he and several of his convict mates escaped from the Sorrento site, and all but him were recaptured. Buckley took up residence with aboriginals who thought him the reincarnation of a recently dead family member. He lived in relative harmony with his new “family” until the 1830s when he gave himself up to the colonial authorities. He never did really settle comfortably with either culture after that but did go on to write a book about aboriginal customs, a very valuable exercise.
We were set on travelling to the very end of the peninsula, especially since we had travelled all around the Bellarine Peninsula on the other side of the port, from Geelong, and looked down on the Rip, and watched the ferries plying their regular route from Queenscliff across to Sorrento.
As we stood gazing across the entrance to the bay, we mused that we had taken more than two months to travel from Queenscliff to Port Nepean, a distance of perhaps only four kilometres as the crow flies.
The tip of the peninsula is protected from development and any other nasty that humans might do, by Victoria Parks. The Point Nepean National Park covers an area of 560 hectares and is covered mainly with scrub comprising coastal tea tree, moonah woodland and the purple flowering South African polygala. There is apparently a great collection of wildlife however we noted very little of it apart from the swifts and willy wagtails.
Point Nepean is also famous as the place where one of Australian’s Prime Ministers disappeared. In December 1967, Harold Holt went swimming at Cheviot Beach. The sea was not wild today, but quite enough to suggest what it might be like in poorer weather. And the weather had been indeed inclement leading up to the day PM Holt ventured into the southern ocean. Today only a memorial gives any indication that this was the beach, along with a small interpretative panel, which explains that the Coroners Court finally pronounced him dead only early this century. Up until then conspiracy theories abounded and no doubt there are still some who think he was abducted by aliens. His body was never found.
We were able to drive within about three kilometres of the point, and set off on foot with our lunch in the backpack. We stayed to the paths and road attending to the signs that warned against straying into any fenced off areas. There could well be unexploded bombs about, according to the warnings. Perhaps that is why we did not see any fauna; they were not literate?
Much of the land now included in the National Park belonged once to the military; in fact from the 1880s right through to 1945, this was a very important defence area. Remains of the forts which were finally stripped of their armoury and other paraphernalia in the 1960s are now open to the public and are an excellent spot to enjoy the spectacular views over the sea, the bay and the entrance. It is a beautiful spot and the weather stayed with us; a lovely warm sunny afternoon ensued, and we were delighted by the place. We sat in a gun emplacement out of the sun to eat our lunch, and heard footsteps and whistling of soldiers, courtesy of hidden sound systems. As we explored the tunnels, the activity of the ghosts was all around us, but never visible. I imagine they are turned off along with the lights at 6 pm.
We returned to the landcruiser after more than two hours, and headed back south east over beautiful farmland which extends right down to the southern coastline, driving up and down through steep gullies, on to Flinders. We parked high above the beach from where we could see the small bay tucked inside the Western Port, the large body of water to the east of Mornington Peninsula, not as large as Port Philip Bay, but equally as impressive on the map. From here we could see across to Phillip Island and make out densely populated settlements thereon, probably Cowes.
From here we continued further north to Hastings, bought ice-creams at the Scottish Restaurant and wandered along the pier. We spent some time chatting with a fisherman who imparted his views on New Zealand’s MAF inspectors (formed from watching New Zealand television documentaries), reckless drag netting of the Western Port and the more recent regeneration of fish stocks, Jews and air travel. He was looking forward to “some beers” over the weekend and of course any fish he might catch on either or both of his lines. We finally escaped, wishing him a good life, and set off back across the peninsula to Mornington and our camp.
We had discovered yesterday that the Mornington Horse Races were on today, and just for a moment we considered attending; I am glad we chose to explore this lovely part of Victoria instead.